September 26, 2016
More than two-thirds of hiring managers agree on the importance of cover letters. On the flip side, however, recruiters tend to spend less than seven seconds on the average application. So how can you create a dynamic, high-impact cover letter that stands out from the crowd? Here are just a few ideas.
1. Get Specific
Use names, dates, numbers, statistics and other quantitative data whenever possible. This applies to everything from your employment history to your opening address: Make sure it’s directed at a particular hiring manager and not a general “Mr./Mrs.” or “Sir/Madam.” Avoid the dreaded “To Whom It May Concern” at all costs.
Not only will a personal address show employers that you’ve done your research and know who you’re talking to, but it will also become an attention-grabbing measure when the hiring manager sees their own name at the top of the page.
2. Break Up Your Text
Which format is easier to read?
Example A: I’ve mastered several programming languages, including Java, Python, C, and C++.
Example B: I’ve mastered several programming languages, including:
While the second example takes up more page space, it’s also much more “readable” than the first, and it’s quicker to scan by busy hiring managers who are looking for specific skills. So don’t be afraid to experiment with things like headers, sub headers and text alignment. If you want your cover letter to transcend conventional ones, you’ll need to toss aside conventional cover letter rules.
3. Tailor It to Your Industry
A cover letter for a web developer shouldn’t look the same as a cover letter for a kindergarten teacher. This is especially true if you’re applying for a specialized position where details really matter. If you can’t utilize your skills to create a great application, why should employers believe that you can use them for the job itself?
Here are just a few tips for tailoring your cover letter to your field:
– Use industry jargon.
– “Name drop” relevant people, places and events.
– Format your cover letter in a unique, job-specific way, such as a fake business card for an advertising executive or a programming script for a software engineer.
4. Avoid Generic Language
“I’m a hard worker. I’m a team player. I’m excited to learn new skills and advance my career.”
Generic statements like these have been included in cover letters since the dawn of time. Not only are they dull and overused, but they’re also vague enough to be completely meaningless. What employee isn’t going to say they’re hard-working? What employee isn’t going to profess extreme excitement at the thought of a new job?
A better strategy is to take these sentiments and turn them into action statements. Give them detail. Make them relevant to the job. For example, “I’m a hard worker” can become “I’m used to working 15-hour days to meet quotas and deadlines, so tax season at Company X won’t be a problem for me.”
5. Offer Value to the Company
Many people use their cover letter as a personal bragging document. Everything is “I’m great at X” or “I have the skills for Y.” But why should hiring managers care about your personal growth? They’re looking for someone to fill a very specific need at their company. Instead of using your cover letter to talk about you, use it to emphasis how much value you can bring the company.
Example A: I speak three languages.
Example B: With a fluency in French, Spanish and English, I’ll be able to resolve tech issues from a wide range of the company’s international branches.
As you can see, the second example takes a generic skill and frames it in a tangible, targeted way that provides benefit to the company. It still highlights the ability in question, but it becomes a tool for the brand rather than a personal achievement.
These are just a few ways to improve your cover letter and increase your odds of a callback. Whether you’re penning an old-fashioned application or a cutting-edge digital model, these tips should help you land a job in any field.
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